Linux needs to be pre-installed on more hardware to hit mainstream

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There's always arguments across many angles on what exactly Linux needs to succeed to become more mainstream and the answer, as we've long said, is pretty simple.

Hardware. Pre-installed. That's it.

Honestly, it really is that simple. There's a fair bit of that now already with the likes of System76, Slimbook, TUXEDO , Star Labs and others I'm forgetting. However, none of those are particularly known outside of Linux circles (TUXEDO claim otherwise). Even if they're slowly pulling in newer non-Linuxy customers, they're still tiny and often expensive. Other vendors like Dell and Lenovo may have a few but they're often harder to find. It's a bit like the old Linux gaming loop — people don't want to switch due to "no games" and developers don't want to support directly due to "no users". Vendors don't often do it because they don't perceive there to be enough interest.

Writing in a fresh blog post titled "What desktop Linux needs to succeed in the mainstream", KDE developer Nate Graham agrees and I couldn't have put it better if I tried:

People get hung up a lot on features and usability, and these are important. But they’re means to an end and not good enough ends by themselves. Quality means nothing if people can’t get it. And people can’t get it without accessible distribution. High quality Linux distros aren’t enough; they need to be pre-installed on hardware products you can buy in mainstream retail stores! “The mainstream” buys products they can touch and hold; if you can’t find it in a mainstream store, it doesn’t exist.

Creating good distributions and good applications with good gaming support is only one small piece of the puzzle. We're not just talking about people going into stores to look at laptops and desktops to try them out though. The bigger known online stores and vendors, we need them to start stocking and properly advertising Linux systems too. Not just that though, the systems need to look good and work well for the vendors themselves, to also be interested in stocking them.

Graham believes that KDE continues to be in a good position to serve their needs too, noting the belief that hardware vendors look for these points:

  • Flexibility. Your software has to be easily adaptable to whatever kind of device they have without tons of custom engineering they’ll be on the hook for supporting over the product’s lifecycle.
  • Features that make their devices look good. Support for its physical hardware characteristics, good performance, a pleasant-looking user interface… reasons for people to buy it, basically.
  • Stability. Can’t crash and dump users at a command line terminal prompt. Has to actually work. Can’t feel like a hobbyist science fair project.
  • Usability that’s to be good enough to minimize support costs. When something goes wrong, “the mainstream” contacts their hardware vendor. Usability needs to be good enough so that this happens as infrequently as possible.

For KDE specifically all this is slowly coming together with more products going for KDE and Plasma like Valve with the Steam Deck, Pine with the PinePhone / PineBook Pro, the KDE Slimbook and the Kubuntu Focus. The point remains though - bigger mainstream vendors are essential.

The biggest push may indeed come from the Steam Deck. A PC in a handheld form factor, that allows you to hook it up to a monitor for a full KDE Plasma desktop experience. Very exciting. If we see a lot of people enjoy it and the Steam Deck is a success, you can be almost guaranteed that more devices will come along and slap SteamOS 3 on it and then also have a KDE Plasma desktop available. The knock-on effect could be seen elsewhere, with more people wanting to use KDE Plasma and then hopefully more vendors and we may even see a loop there with it finally being picked up more often.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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38 comments
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LibertyPaulM 14 Dec, 2021
Just being preinstalled on machines is not enough. It needs to be preinstalled on the brands that people actually buy (Acer, Asus, HP etc), available in the stores people actually buy from (Argos, PC World, Currys etc) and priced comparatively or cheaper than the Windows variants.

As Nate says in his blog post, linux desktop marketing should be focused on hardware OEMs rather than end users.
vildravn 14 Dec, 2021
Yeah, aside from what I'd call enthusiast hardware, which is aimed at people who are able to, and probably want to, install Linux themselves, there really isn't much in a way of mainstream hardware that ships with Linux pre-installed. (If we ignore Google's Linux based derivates like Android and ChromeOS)

I don't think the Steam Deck will directly mean that 2022 will be the "the year of Linux on the desktop", but it really is an important stepping stone for more people to take notice of the platform.

Edit: The only problem with more vendors shipping with Linux as an alternative to Windows is that Microsoft is not just going to take it. Call me cynical but I am fairly sure there'd be kickbacks and incentives involved if that were the case.


Last edited by vildravn on 14 December 2021 at 11:01 am UTC
toor 14 Dec, 2021
QuoteHardware. Pre-installed. That's it.

Honestly, it really is that simple.

I disagree. I remember when netbooks (those small computers) started being a thing, most of them were at first shipped with Linux preinstalled. People just favored those having Windows on it, and then the market adapted and ended up selling them almost only with Vista.

Also, when people are forced to use Linux in some countries, like in Germany or in France for police or administration, the workers are usually not happy about it from what I heard, Linux was and still is built on a non-mainstream philosophy which is… tech passionate and open source.
It's intended for people who like to tweak their machine at least to some extent, because, as soon as you have a problem, you are on your own (most people don't try to fix their problem themselves). Of course if you just use a web browser, and read your mails, you don't really care. My grand parents are using Linux. But they do because I introduced it, and I fix their problems when they have some.

Furthermore there is the "free software" or "open source" philosophy that is hard for mainstream people to understand, and honestly, they don't care… why the hell would they? The concept of "source code" don't even ring a bell to them. Even I, as a developer, don't watch most of the code I'm running.

If you want to change people's habits, you better have a good reason.
And even reason isn't enough! Just look at qwerty layout… it was first designed to overcome a mechanical problem on typewriters. Those problem don't exist on modern keyboards, and there exist better designed keyboard layouts, such as dvorak. Does the fact a better alternative exist change the fact that qwerty is used? No
I remember as a kid, I wondered why the keyboard wasn't simply the alphabetic order. Why did I naturally expect that? Because that's what I was used to. Once I was used to qwerty, it required an effort to learn how to use a dvorak based keyboard, and not many people would do this effort.

So my conclusion would be. People don't care about principles, only a minority does. If you want people to use something, force them to do so, or introduce that one thing in the first place. To be "mainstream", at least for future generations, it needs to be introduced to kids first, with obviously the fancy stuff, like video games :p

That's my 2 cents on the subject.


Last edited by toor on 14 December 2021 at 11:33 am UTC
CSharp 14 Dec, 2021
Quoting: LibertyPaulMJust being preinstalled on machines is not enough. It needs to be preinstalled on the brands that people actually buy (Acer, Asus, HP etc), available in the stores people actually buy from (Argos, PC World, Currys etc) and priced comparatively or cheaper than the Windows variants.

As Nate says in his blog post, linux desktop marketing should be focused on hardware OEMs rather than end users.

I'd like to disagree, I think Linux does a terrible job at servicing it's own demographic and focuses way too hard on the others... For me it sucks that the only Linux available Laptops are the bottom of the barrel Dells and Thinkpads, it sucks that the Pinephone feels like the 70$ Android crap you buy off Amazon.

I'd like to have a device that caters to the demographic of Linux power users. Sysadmins who want cool tech, and have a stable job. Don't get me wrong, it's awesome that you can get the cheap offerings we have now, but they don't get me excited.

Steam / Valve, in my opinion, is doing a great job with the Deck this time. The device is expensive, but it's something you WANT to get. I want to save up some cash to splurge on it, because it's cool without the Linux aspect, and the fact that Valve is open to people tinkering with it makes it even cooler.

I'd like to see this trend move over to phones and computers too. I don't mind if I have to shill out 2,500 dollars for a Laptop to get Linux. It sucks that I have to buy something that just feels 2014 when compared to the Macbooks and high-end Windows Laptops that my peers rock.
Liam Dawe 14 Dec, 2021
Quoting: toorI remember when netbooks (those small computers) started being a thing
...heavily underpowered devices that couldn't really run all that much. I remember, I had multiple of them. I don't think the experience of those devices over 10 years ago has any real relevance on what happens in 2022+. As long as vendors don't repeat the mistakes of putting it on only super low-end devices.

Edit: added a link from TUXEDO that claim otherwise about being known outside Linux circles.


Last edited by Liam Dawe on 14 December 2021 at 11:54 am UTC
toor 14 Dec, 2021
Quoting: Liam Dawe
Quoting: toorI remember when netbooks (those small computers) started being a thing
...heavily underpowered devices that couldn't really run all that much. I remember, I had multiple of them. I don't think the experience of those devices over 10 years ago has any real relevance on what happens in 2022+. As long as vendors don't repeat the mistakes of putting it on only super low-end devices.

The fact they were underpowered was actually probably the reason Linux was preinstalled instead of Windows Vista in the first place, because it made sense on a technical aspect. Yet people would rather buy those with Vista.

You think the power of the device is the big deal there? I would assume that you mean for games then, since you can run a web browser even on a raspberry pi. Well, I know a lot of developers who work with Linux every day and yet use Windows to play at home, and find me crazy to play on Linux, they are even surprised when I tell them it's decent enough to play on now.
Yet they have a powerful machine, and definitely know how to install Linux. So even among techies, Linux isn't even considered for gaming.

Steam deck is a great idea as it is not presented as Linux, the main thing is the device… gaming, the end user doesn't care which OS it runs.
Also Android is used a lot, and most people don't care that it runs a Linux kernel. It could take over because the concept was new: They could buy a smartphone cheaper than the iPhones, and well… it goes with this thing, Android. Now they are used to Android, good luck to make them change it.


Last edited by toor on 14 December 2021 at 12:03 pm UTC
Liam Dawe 14 Dec, 2021
I think people are getting sidetracked here due to their own beliefs on what should happen. The reality is, IMO, as the article is just trying to convey - is that the masses / mainstream won't pick it up, if they can't see it to buy it. We need the bigger vendors jumping in. Valve is, and it's a fantastic start. I'm calling it the start, as we don't talk about Steam Machines :P
gbudny 14 Dec, 2021
I remember that in the Revolution OS, Linus said that nobody really uses the operating system because people use programs. Seriously, we can't force people to use Linux on all popular computers because they will remove it after buying it.

In my view, Linux is an excellent alternative for other versions of Unix like Solaris, BSD, AIX, HP-UX Mac OS X, and so on. We can't compete with Windows and all companies that support it.

However, the main focus of Linux users should be buying more software and games than macOS users. We don't need users that criticize Apple because companies don't get any money from them. They don't need them.

I remember that Linux was more popular than Mac for more than a few years. However, we lost with loyal users that support companies that have published applications for Mac.
CSharp 14 Dec, 2021
Quoting: Liam DaweThe reality is, IMO, as the article is just trying to convey - is that the masses / mainstream won't pick it up, if they can't see it to buy it. We need the bigger vendors jumping in.

I have to disagree with the sentiment though. I think the bigger issue Linux has is that it tries to cater to the mainstream too much. Most people I talk with would not buy a laptop with Linux even if I glued it to their faces.

People on the Linux side have been burned by the other platforms, we hate that Windows takes away control from us and forces telemetry on us when we said no, we hate that our phone decides when we can take a screenshot, we love the fact that Linux just lets us do dumb stuff with our machines whenever we just write sudo in front of a command.

Linux treats me like an adult.

We are enthusiasts, we consider our computers our hobby, we like to tinker, we know how to back up our files, and we know how to restore it if we wreck the operating system. If people aren't willing to do those things, then they need a platform that babysits them. But that's always gonna end up being more like Android, iOS or Chrome OS. With a locked bootloader and limited freedoms.

Google has successfully mainstreamed Linux twice. Because they know that what the Linux desktop user wants is not what the average user wants.

Mainstream wants a platform that works. I consider myself a Linux enthusiast and even I wouldn't consider a Pinephone or Librem as my daily drivers. They're clunky and buggy and lack a ton of basic features that just need to work. And I'm not talking about app support, just a working UI, more than 4 hours of battery life, working settings and browser would do it.

I think the people creating these products should stop caring so much about mainstream and start to try and figure out who is downloading their OS and what hardware these people want to buy.
Liam Dawe 14 Dec, 2021
Quoting: CSharpI have to disagree with the sentiment though. I think the bigger issue Linux has is that it tries to cater to the mainstream too much. Most people I talk with would not buy a laptop with Linux even if I glued it to their faces.
There is no alternative. You cannot keep appealing to the same set of users, that isn't big enough to grow and attract more vendors.
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